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Looking back–’way back!

Food For Thought

Now that Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the graduations are out of the way, we have time to sit back and think about what those observances mean to us. They are about people in our lives, their achievements and the contributions they made to the world in one way or another. While most such celebrations honor the past, graduations are more about the future. Granted, the graduation ceremony itself recognizes accomplishments and celebrates the completion of a stage in learning. Graduation is also called Commencement, and that word means “beginning.”
I never quite understood why the end of something could also be a beginning until my college graduation loomed before me and I realized I was about to be shucked out into the real world. I could no longer shelter in the secure, comfortable world of school where I could wallow in the exciting realm of exploration and discovery, with each of my successes acknowledged and documented, so I knew exactly where I stood and how I measured up. The future held unknown challenges and rather frightening necessities that I felt unprepared to deal with. While I felt confident in my ability as an artist and teacher, I was woefully innocent about the realities of life as an adult. Such things as acquiring a car and an apartment were quite beyond my grasp, and it never occurred to me I would have to file income tax returns. For the first time in my 22 years of life, I realized how very little I knew and how badly prepared I was to pursue the life I had been imagining for myself.
It has been nearly 60 years since I graduated from college, and it is evident I survived those challenges, but for some reason, when I think about graduation, it is my high school graduation 65 years ago that comes first to mind. Possibly this is because I have been fortunate to stay in touch with my high school classmates while I have been able to sustain connections to only a few of the friends I met in college. I assume that is because those college friendships developed over just a few years, while my high school classmates and I knew each other from the very first days of kindergarten and grew up in the same place, while the college friends came from a variety of environments.
At one time, I thought it odd that travelers to far away places, when they happen upon someone from their hometown or home state, behave as if they’d found a long lost best friend, even though they’d never been acquainted before. I’ve come to understand the sort of ready-made association that causes that reaction as I recognize the strength of ties between people who have strong, similar connections to an area or an event. Having the same experiences and similar knowledge takes the place of many hours of conversation, comparing experiences, sharing memories. And discovering they both attended the same ball game, rock concert, or county fair at the same time is nearly as good as having known each other and attended together.
Three of my five closest college friends are no longer living. Of the other two, one was my first college roommate in Currier Hall. A girl from Nevada, Iowa, she was engaged to a sailor who happened to be a cousin to a boy in my high school. I lost track of her for a few years after her marriage but rediscovered her by chance, through a letter she had written to the editor of a Des Moines newspaper. We still keep in touch and get together every few years. The other, also a roommate for one year, was a high school classmate, and our whole class manages to keep in touch through frequent reunions and an annual newsletter.
Our most recent reunion occurred about a month ago in Knoxville, and there were only about a dozen of us in attendance. Two of our number traveled some distance to be there– from Texas and Colorado– but the rest were all from Iowa and mostly from our hometown or towns nearby. We are, after all, getting up there in age and travel is difficult for many of us. There were a couple canes and a walker parked near the table where we sat, but the former cheerleader is still cute and vivacious, and the drum majorette still stands tall, one of the football players looks 20 years younger than the rest of us (and rode a mechanical bull for eight seconds just a few months ago), and another looks older but acts younger. Anyone listening to the conversation would assume we saw each other every week or so and would be astonished it’s been 65 years since we were in high school. In fact, the biggest changes weren’t in the classmates, but in the town. The business around the courthouse square have all disappeared and become something else– except for one movie theater. The one where, all those years ago, we had to be 18 in order to be admitted to see “Gone With The Wind.”